Author to be presented with King Olav medal in recognition of writing talent


CELEBRATED author James W Irvine is to receive a prestigious Norwegian award in recognition of his writing achievements.

The prolific writer of over 20 books spanning 28 years, including well known titles like The Waves Are Free and The Giving Years, will receive the King Olav Medal at a ceremony in Lerwick’s Town Hall.

An official date for the ceremony has not yet been set, although it is likely to be in the early days of next month.

Mr Irvine, who only began writing in 1980 after he retired, has explored the close relationship which flourished between Shetland and Norway during and since the Second World War through his books.

Some of his writings have been translated into Norwegian, and now his work has been formally recognised there as well.

The medal is extremely prestigious – effectively the Norwegian equivalent of an MBE.

Instituted by King Haakon VII of Norway on 17th March 1939, the medal is awarded in recognition of “outstanding services rendered in connection with the spreading of information about Norway abroad and for strengthening the bonds between expatriate Norwegians and their home country”.

Recipients would normally visit Norway to receive the honour, however because of Mr Irvine’s age – he is 91 – arrangements are being made to bring the award to Shetland from the Norwegian Embassy in London where it is currently being held.

Mr Irvine declined to comment, but SIC convener Sandy Cluness said he was delighted Mr Irvine would be gaining such high recognition from the Norwegian King.

“I’m sure the Shetland community will be delighted that James Irvine is being given this very prestigious award. It’s in recognition of the work he has done to strenghten the relationship between Shetland and Norway during World War II,” he said.

“It’s well deserved and we look forward to getting a date from the Norwegian Crown. We will make the Town Hall available, and make it a special occasion.”

Born in 1917 at Exnaboe in Virkie, Mr Irvine was brought up in the area, before schooling at Anderson Educational Institute. He went on to study at Edinburgh University, from where he graduated in 1939.

Mr Irvine saw six years of army service, and went on to become further education officer for Shetland for a while before reverting to teaching.

He became headmaster of Bell’s Brae Primary School in 1966, a position he held until he retired in 1977.

He was made a Fellow of the Educational Institute of Scotland in 1973, and awarded the MBE in 1974.

  • Mr Irvine will not be the first Shetlander to be awarded the King Olav Medal.

In past years the award has also gone to the late Ruby Irvine, who provided welfare work for Norwegian herring boats which arrived in their droves during the sixties and seventies.

She spoke fluent Norwegian and provided shelter for Norwegians coming off the boats at the time.

Before she died in December 1994, friends from Norway were known to send her letters addressed purely Ruby, Shetland, which were known to arrive at her home without delay.


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